Why Giving Back is Good

Why we feel it is important to give back to nurture the next generation of design talent.

The most precious commodity we have is our time and using it well is paramount to our survival and happiness. By the time you take out a chunk for sleep, an allowance for work, factor in family time, travel and domestic chores, you might just have a wee bit left over for leisure activities. Not much spare time left in any given day I suspect, so why would you decide to invest any free time you may have, rather than putting your tired feet up, to helping others?

Well, let me tell you.

Firstly, as I’ve outlined, your time is a finite resource, so choose wisely how you invest it if philanthropy is something you’d consider. If you want to help others with what spare time you have to make sure it’s something close to your heart, something you really care about.

For me, I’d been hearing and reading stories for years from studio owners and Creative Directors that the students coming through their doors fresh from art college weren’t cutting the mustard. When I say that I mean, untrained in the actual workings, demands and pressures associated with busy commercial design consultancies. It’s a debate that still rages today if you care to listen.

So what do you do? Put up or shut up.

My parents went to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee in the 60’s. I went in the 80’s. I was born and bred in Broughty Ferry, seven miles from the college, so I had a wee bit of an affinity. 

I also remembered that during my time in the graphics course that one of the most valuable times in the academic year was when we were visited and taught by practising designers. That’s not to undervalue the amazing work done by our lecturers, but they had to lay the creative, craft and ideas driven foundations, this was the icing on the cake. I was lucky enough to be mentored by Aird McKinstrie of McIlroy Coates (One of the outstanding Scottish studios in its day). The impact of his time, expertise and patience then, still resonates with me today.

External lecturers brought the outside in. A healthy dose of reality and insight coupled with that dirtiest of words at art college, a deadline! Everyone in the course benefitted, especially when the relationship grew into a work placement over the summer months. The real learning ground of the budding designer, where you got to cut your teeth on live projects alongside experienced designers.

My calling was in Dundee giving back to an institution that had given me plenty and maybe along the way preparing the students there a little better for the hard landing in Reality Design Inc.

I’ve now been an unpaid guest lecturer at DJCAD for over ten years, engaging with the third year graphic design students. Setting them as close to a live project as I can every year.

Heading over to the college to brief, returning a couple of weeks later to review and input, returning once again a few weeks after that for a final crit.

It’s impossible to take every student into our studio, there's over thirty of them usually, but we always place at least two for an extended period over the summer months to give them a good indoctrination into live work and the demands that studio life will place on them. This has then lead to us employing the best of these placements after graduation.

Andrew Simpson, who has already written in the journal, is a very good example.

The purpose of my visits is an education in the building blocks of ethical, sustainable and justifiable design. Good practice. They will be faced with the client in the real world soon enough. Their needs and goals are paramount. My part in their journey is to pass on to them the principles of our approach, how to create responsible and differentiated brands built on solid foundations. How to work in partnership with the clients, sell and defend an idea they believe in and ultimately how to make a difference.

That said, it’s a two-way thing. We learn as much from them as they do from us.

Youth, unbridled enthusiasm and a lack of baggage bring a new perspective to any brief we give. It’s refreshing and energising to be in their company, even for the limited time we can invest. Our team benefits from being involved, reviewing and evaluating the best of what we see. They conduct all the folio interviews and set the parameters and payment terms for the studio placements. Once on site the design team learn from mentoring the interns through the myriad of hoops they’ll need to navigate on any given project. Friendships are made and value added through the learnings on both sides.

At the same time, rather than pointing the finger, by working closely with Jackie and Gary at DJCAD I get to see first hand how difficult their job is navigating the politics of a University that doesn’t value their course alongside the classics like medicine and law. Sounds familiar! How they do what they do with the budgets they have have to work with is unbelievable.

With over thirty students every year we also get to work with young designers from across the globe and many from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some also have to work incredibly hard to overcome disability, two of my students this year are deaf and have to work with me through signers. Humbling when compared with some of my so-called ‘worries’.

So, as a company who believes in the ongoing evolution and ‘professionalism’ of design services, this commitment to the next generation fits well with our purpose and beliefs. We get to help them and by osmosis, they help us in a myriad of unforeseen ways. I strongly recommend to find a cause and that fits with your personal beliefs and maybe that of your company. There’s everything to gain and nothing to lose in giving of your precious time, experience and expertise. It’s the ultimate gift. It’s all good.